Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 11

XI

THE POISON CONTINUE5

At ten o'clock that morning Rouletabille went to the Trebassof
villa, which had its guard of secret agents again, a double guard,
because Koupriane was sure the Nihilists would not delay in avenging
Michael's death. Rouletabille was met by Ermolai, who would not
allow him to enter. The faithful servant uttered some explanation
in Russian, which the young man did not understand, or, rather,
Rouletabille understood perfectly from his manner that henceforth
the door of the villa was closed to him. In vain he insisted on
seeing the general, Matrena Petrovna and Mademoiselle Natacha.
Ermolai made no reply but "Niet, niet, niet." The reporter turned
away without having seen anyone, and walked away deeply depressed.
He went afoot clear into the city, a long promenade, during which
his brain surged with the darkest forebodings. As he passed by the
Department of Police he resolved to see Koupriane again. He went
in, gave his name, and was ushered at once to the Chief of Police,
whom he found bent over a long report that he was reading through
with noticeable agitation.

"Gounsovski has sent me this," he said in a rough voice, pointing
to the report. "Gounsovski, 'to do me a service,' desires me to
know that he is fully aware of all that happened at the Trebassof
datcha last night. He warns me that the revolutionaries have
decided to get through with the general at once, and that two of
them have been given the mission to enter the datcha in any way
possible. They will have bombs upon their bodies and will blow
the bombs and themselves up together as soon as they are beside the
general. Who are the two victims designated for this horrible
vengeance, and who have light-heartedly accepted such a death for
themselves as well as for the general? That is what we don't know.
That is what we would have known, perhaps, if you had not prevented
me from seizing the papers that Prince Galitch has now," Koupriane
finished, turning hostilely toward Rouletabille.

Rouletabille had turned pale.

"Don't regret what happened to the papers," he said. "It is I who
tell you not to. But what you say doesn't surprise me. They must
believe that Natacha has betrayed them."

"Ah, then you admit at last that she really is their accomplice?"

"I haven't said that and I don't admit it. But I know what I mean,
and you, you can't. Only, know this one thing, that at the present
moment I am the only person able to save you in this horrible
situation. To do that I must see Natacha at once. Make her
understand this, while I wait at my hotel for word. I'll not leave
it."

Rouletabille saluted Koupriane and went out.

Two days passed, during which Rouletabille did not receive any word
from either Natacha or Koupriane, and tried in vain to see them.
He made a trip for a few hours to Finland, going as far as Pergalovo,
an isolated town said to be frequented by the revolutionaries, then
returned, much disturbed, to his hotel, after having written a last
letter to Natacha imploring an interview. The minutes passed very
slowly for him in the hotel's vestibule, where he had seemed to have
taken up a definite residence.

Installed on a bench, he seemed to have become part of the hotel
staff, and more than one traveler took him for an interpreter.
Others thought he was an agent of the Secret Police appointed to
study the faces of those arriving and departing. What was he
waiting for, then? Was it for Annouchka to return for a luncheon
or dinner in that place that she sometimes frequented? And did he
at the same time keep watch upon Annouchka's apartments just across
the way? If that was so, he could only bewail his luck, for
Annouchka did not appear either at her apartments or the hotel, or
at the Krestowsky establishment, which had been obliged to suppress
her performance. Rouletabille naturally thought, in the latter
connection, that some vengeance by Gounsovski lay back of this,
since the head of the Secret Service could hardly forget the way he

had been treated. The reporter could see already the poor singer,
in spite of all her safeguards and the favor of the Imperial family,
on the road to the Siberian steppes or the dungeons of Schlusselbourg.

"My, what a country!" he murmured.

But his thoughts soon quit Annouchka and returned to the object of
his main preoccupation. He waited for only one thing, and for that
as soon as possible - to have a private interview with Natacha. He
had written her ten letters in two days, but they all remained
unanswered. It was an answer that he waited for so patiently in
the vestibule of the hotel - so patiently, but so nervously, so
feverishly.

When the postman entered, poor Rouletabille's heart beat rapidly.
On that answer he waited for depended the formidable part he meant
to play before quitting Russia. He had accomplished nothing up to
now, unless he could play his part in this later development.

But the letter did not come. The postman left, and the schwitzar,
after examining all the mail, made him a negative sign. Ah, the
servants who entered, and the errand-boys, how he looked at them!
But they never came for him. Finally, at six o'clock in the evening
of the second day, a man in a frock-coat, with a false astrakhan
collar, came in and handed the concierge a letter for Joseph
Rouletabille. The reporter jumped up. Before the man was out the
door he had torn open the letter and read it. The letter was not
from Natacha. It was from Gounsovski. This is what it said:

"My dear Monsieur Joseph Rouletabille, if it will not inconvenience
you, I wish you would oome and dine with me to-day. I will look
for you within two hours. Madame Gounsovski will be pleased to make
your acquaintance. Believe me your devoted Gounsovski."

Rouletabille considered, and decided:

"I will go. He ought to have wind of what is being plotted, and as
for me, I don't know where Annoucbka has gone. I have more to learn
from him than he has from me. Besides, as Athanase Georgevitch said,
one may regret not accepting the Head of the Okrana's pleasant
invitation."

>From six o'clock to seven he still waited vainly for Natacha's
response. At seven o'clock, he decided to dress for the dinner.
Just as he rose, a messenger arrived. There was still another
letter for Joseph Rouletabille. This time it was from Natacha, who
wrote him:

"General Trebassof and my step-mother will be very happy to have
you come to dinner to-day. As for myself, monsieur, you will pardon
me the order which has closed to you for a number of days a dwelling
where you have rendered services which I shall not forget all my
life."

The letter ended with a vague polite formula. With the letter in
his hand the reporter sat in thought. He seemed to be asking
himself, "Is it fish or flesh?" Was it a letter of thanks or of
menace? That was what he could not decide. Well, he would soon
know, for he had decided to accept that invitation. Anything that
brought him and Natacha into communication at the moment was a thing
of capital importance to him. Half-an-hour later he gave the
address of the villa to an isvotchick, and soon he stepped out
before the gate where Ermolai seemed to be waiting for him.

Rouletabille was so occupied by thought of the conversation he was
going to have with Natacha that he had completely forgotten the
excellent Monsieur Gounsovski and his invitation.

The reporter found Koupriane's agents making a close-linked chain
around the grounds and each watching the other. Matrena had not
wished any agent to be in house. He showed Koupriane's pass and
entered.

Ermolai ushered Rouletabille in with shining face. He seemed glad
to have him there again. He bowed low before him and uttered many
compliments, of which the reporter did not understand a word.
Rouletablle passed on, entered the garden and saw Matrena Petrovna
there walking with her step-daughter. They seemed on the best of
terms with each other. The grounds wore an air of tranquillity and
the residents seemed to have totally forgotten the somber tragedy
of the other night. Matrena and Natacha came smilingly up to the
young man, who inquired after the general. They both turned and
pointed out Feodor Feodorovitch, who waved to him from the height
of the kiosk, where it seemed the table had been spread. They were
going to dine out of doors this fine night.

"Everything goes very well, very well indeed, dear little domovoi,"
said Matrena. "How glad it is to see you and thank you. If you
only knew how I suffered in your absence, I who know how unjust my
daughter was to you. But dear Natacha knows now what she owes you.
She doesn't doubt your word now, nor your clear intelligence, little
angel. Michael Nikolaievitch was a monster and he was punished as
he deserved. You know the police have proof now that he was one of
the Central Revolutionary Committee's most dangerous agents. And
he an officer! Whom can we trust now!"

"And Monsieur Boris Mourazoff, have you seen him since?" inquired
Rouletabille.

"Boris called to see us to-day, to say good-by, but we did not
receive him, under the orders of the police. Natacha has written
to tell him of Koupriane's orders. We have received letters from
him; he is quitting St. Petersburg.

"What for?"

"Well, after the frightful bloody scene in his little house, when
he learned how Michael Nikolaievitch had found his death, and after
he himself had undergone a severe grilling from the police, and
when he learned the police had sacked his library and gone through
his papers, he resigned, and has resolved to live from now on out
in the country, without seeing anyone, like the philosopher and
poet he is. So far as I am concerned, I think he is doing absolutely
right. When a young man is a poet, it is useless to live like a
soldier. Someone has said that, I don't know the name now, and
when one has ideas that may upset other people, surely they ought
to live in solitude."

Rouletabille looked at Natacha, who was as pale as her white gown,
and who added no word to her mother's outburst. They had drawn near
the kiosk. Rouletabille saluted the general, who called to him to
come up and, when the young man extended his hand, he drew him
abruptly nearer and embraced him. To show Rouletabille how active
he was getting again, Feodor Feodorovitch marched up and down the
kiosk with only the aid of a stick. He went and came with a sort
of wild, furious gayety.

"They haven't got me yet, the dogs. They haven't got me! And one
(he was thinking of Michael) who saw me every day was here just for
that. Very well. I ask you where he is now. And yet here I am!
An attack! I'm always here! But with a good eye; and I begin to
have a good leg. We shall see. Why, I recollect how, when I was
at Tiflis, there was an insurrection in the Caucasus. We fought.
Several times I could feel the swish of bullets past my hair. My
comrades fell around me like flies. But nothing happened to me,
not a thing. And here now! They will not get me, they will not
get me. You know how they plan now to come to me, as living bombs.
Yes, they have decided on that. I can't press a friend's hand any
more without the fear of seeing him explode. What do you think of
that? But they won't get me. Come, drink my health. A small
glass of vodka for an appetizer. You see, young man, we are going
to have zakouskis here. What a marvelous panorama! You can see
everything from here. If the enemy comes," he added with a singular
loud laugh, "we can't fail to detect him."

Certainly the kiosk did rise high above the garden and was
completely detached, no wall being near. They had a clear view.
No branches of trees hung over the roof and no tree hid the view.
The rustic table of rough wood was covered with a short cloth and
was spread with zakouskis. It was a meal under the open sky, a
seat and a glass in the clear azure. The evening could not have
been softer and clearer. And, as the general felt so gay, the
repast would have promised to be most agreeable, if Rouletabille
had not noticed that Matrena Petrovna and Natacha were uneasy and
downcast. The reporter soon saw, too, that all the general's
joviality was a little excessive. Anyone would have said that
Feodor Feodorovitch spoke to distract himself, to keep himself from
thinking. There was sufilcient excuse for him after the outrageous
drama of the other night. Rouletabille noticed further that the
general never looked at his daughter, even when he spoke to her.
There was too formidable a mystery lying between them for restraint
not to increase day by day. Rouletabille involuntarily shook his
head, saddened by all he saw. His movemerit was surprised by
Matrena Petrovna, who pressed his hand in silence.

"Well, now," said the general, "well, now my children, where is the
vodka?"

Among all the bottles which graced the table the general looked in
vain for his flask of vodka. How in the world could he dine if he
did not prepare for that important act by the rapid absorption of
two or three little glasses of white wine, between two or three
sandwiches of caviare!

"Ermolai must have left it in the wine-chest," said Matrena.

The wine-closet was in the dining-room. She rose to go there, but
Natacha hurried before her down the little flight of steps, crying,
"Stay there, mamma. I will go."

"Don't you bother, either. I know where it is," cried Rouletabille,
and hurried after Natacha.

She did not stop. The two young people arrived in the dining-room at
the same time. They were there alone, as Rouletabille had foreseen.
He stopped Natacha and planted himself in front of her.

"Why, mademoiselle, did you not answer me earlier?"

"Because I don't wish to have any conversation with you."

"If that was so, you would not have come here, where you were sure
I would follow."

She hesitated, with an emotion that would have been incomprehensible
to all others perhaps, but was not to Rouletabille.

"Well, yes, I wished to say this to you: Don't write to me any more.
Don't speak to me. Don't see me. Go away from here, monsieur; go
away. They will have your life. And if you have found out anything,
forget it. Ah, on the head of your mother, forget it, or you are
lost. That is what I wished to tell you. And now, you go."

She grasped his hand in a quick sympathetic movement that she seemed
instantly to regret.

"You go away," she repeated.

Rouletabille still held his place before her. She turned from him;
she did not wish to hear anything further.

"Mademoiselle," said he, "you are watched closer than ever. Who
will take Michael Nikolaievitch's place?"

"Madman, be silent! Hush!"

"I am here."

He said this with such simple bravery that tears sprang to her eyes.

"Dear man! Poor man! Dear brave man!" She did not know what to
say. Her emotion checked all utterance. But it was necessary for
her to enable him to understand that there was nothing he could do
to help her in her sad straits.

"No. If they knew what you have just said, what you have proposed
now, you would be dead to-morrow. Don't let them suspect. And
above all, don't try to see me anywhere. Go back to papa at once.
We have been here too long. What if they learn of it? - and they
learn everything! They are everywhere, and have ears everywhere."

"Mademoiselle, just one word more, a single word. Do you doubt now
that Michael tried to poison your father?"

"Ah, I wish to believe it. I wish to. I wish to believe it for
your sake, my poor boy."

Rouletabille desired something besides "I wish to believe it for
your sake, my poor boy." He was far from being satisfied. She saw
him turn pale. She tried to reassure him while her trembling hands
raised the lid of the wine-chest.

"What makes me think you are right is that I have decided myself
that only one and the same person, as you said, climbed to the
window of the little balcony. Yes, no one can doubt that, and you
have reasoned well."

But he persisted still.

"And yet, in spite of that, you are not entirely sure, since you
say, 'I wish to believe it, my poor boy.'"

"Monsieur Rouletabille, someone might have tried to poison my father,
and not have come by way of the window."

"No, that is impossible."

"Nothing is impossible to them."

And she turned her head away again.

"Why, why," she said, with her voice entirely changed and quite
indifferent, as if she wished to be merely 'the daughter of the
house' in conversation with the young man, "the vodka is not in
the wine chest, after all. What has Ermolai done with it, then?"

She ran over to the buffet and found the flask.

"Oh, here it is. Papa shan't be without it, after all."

Rouletabille was already into the garden again.

"If that is the only doubt she has," he said to himself, "I can
reassure her. No one could come, excepting by the window. And
only one came that way."

The young girl had rejoined him, bringing the flask. They crossed
the garden together to the general, who was whiling away the time
as he waited for his vodka explaining to Matrena Petrovna the nature
of "the constitution." He had spilt a box of matches on the table
and arranged them carefully.

"Here," he cried to Natacha and Rouletabille. "Come here and I will
explain to you as well what this Constitution amounts to."

The young people leaned over his demonstration curiously and all
eyes in the kiosk were intent on the matches.

"You see that match," said Feodor Feodorovitch. "It is the Emperor.
And this other match is the Empress; this one is the Tsarevitch;
and that one is the Grand-duke Alexander; and these are the other
granddukes. Now, here are the ministers and there the principal
governors, and then the generals; these here are the bishops."

The whole box of matches was used up, and each match was in its
place, as is the way in an empire where proper etiquette prevails
in government and the social order.

"Well," continued the general, "do you want to know, Matrena
Petrovna, what a constitution is? There! That is the Constitution."

The general, with a swoop of his hand, mixed all the matches.
Rouletabille laughed, but the good Matrena said:

"I don't understand, Feodor."

"Find the Emperor now."

Then Matrena understood. She laughed heartily, she laughed
violently, and Natacha laughed also. Delighted with his success,
Feodor Feodorovitch took up one of the little glasses that Natacha
had filled with the vodka she brought.

"Listen, my children," said he. "We are going to commence the
zakouskis. Koupriane ought to have been here before this."

Saying this, holding still the little glass in his hand, he felt in
his pocket with the other for his watch, and drew out a magnificent
large watch whose ticking was easily heard.

" Ah, the watch has come back from the repairer," Rouletabille
remarked smilingly to Matrena Petrovna. "It looks like a splendid
one."

"1t has very fine works," said the general. "It was bequeathed to
me by my grandfather. It marks the seconds, and the phases of the
moon, and sounds the hours and half-hours."

Rouletabille bent over the watch, admiring it.

"You expect M. Koupriane for dinner?" inquired the young man, still
examining the watch.

"Yes, but since he is so late, we'll not delay any longer. Your
healths, my children," said the general as Rouletabille handed him
back the watch and he put it in his pocket.

"Your health, Feodor Feodorovitch," replied Matrena Petrovna, with
her usual tenderness.

Rouletabille and Natacha only touched their lips to the vodka, but
Feodor Feodorovitch and Matrena drank theirs in the Russian fashion,
head back and all at a draught, draining it to the bottom and
flinging the contents to the back of the throat. They had no more
than performed this gesture when the general uttered an oath and
tried to expel what he had drained so heartily. Matrena Petrovna
spat violently also, looking with horror at her husband.

"What is it? What has someone put in the vodka?" cried Feodor.

"What has someone put in the vodka?" repeated Matrena Petrovna in
a thick voice, her eyes almost starting from her head.

The two young people threw themselves upon the unfortunates.
Feodor's face had an expression of atrocious suffering.

"We are poisoned," cried the general, in the midst of his chokings.
"I am burning inside."

Almost mad, Natacha took her father's head in her hands. She cried
to him:

"Vomit, papa; vomit!"

"We must find an emetic," cried Rauletabille, holding on to the
general, who had almost slipped from his arms.

Matrena Petrovna, whose gagging noises were violent, hurried down
the steps of the kiosk, crossed the garden as though wild-fire were
behind her, and bounded into the veranda. During this time the
general succeeded in easing himself, thanks to Rouletabille, who
had thrust a spoon to the root of his tongue. Natacha could do
nothing but cry, "My God, my God, my God!" Feodor held onto his
stomach, still crying, "I'm burning, I'm burning!" The scene was
frightfully tragic and funny at the same time. To add to the
burlesque, the general's watch in his pocket struck eight o'clock.
Feodor Feodorovitch stood up in a final supreme effort. "Oh, it is
horrible!" Matrena Petrovna showed a red, almost violet face as she
came back; she distorted it, she choked, her mouth twitched, but
she brought something, a little packet that she waved, and from
which, trembling frightenedly, she shook a powder into the first
two empty glasses, which were on her side of the table and were
those she and the general had drained. She still had strength to
fill them with water, while Rouletabille was almost overcome by the
general, whom he still had in his arms, and Natacha concerned
herself with nothing but her father, leaning over him as though
to follow the progress of the terrible poison, to read in his eyes
if it was to be life or death. "Ipecac," cried Matrena Petrovna,
and she made the general drink it. She did not drink until after
him. The heroic woman must have exerted superhuman force to go
herself to find the saving antidote in her medicine-chest, even
while the agony pervaded her vitals.

Some minutes later both could be considered saved. The servants,
Ermolai at their head, were clustered about. Most of them had been
at the lodge and they had not, it appeared, heard the beginning of
the affair, the cries of Natacha and Rouletabille. Koupriane
arrived just then. It was he who worked with Natacha in getting
the two to bed. Then he directed one of his agents to go for the
nearest doctors they could find.

This done, the Prefect of Police went toward the kiosk where he had
left Rouletabille. But Rouletabille was not to be found, and the
flask of vodka and the glasses from which they had drunk were gone
also. Ermolai was near-by, and he inquired of the servant for the
young Frenchman. Ermolai replied that he had just gone away,
carrying the flask and the glasses. Koupriane swore. He shook
Ermolai and even started to give him a blow with the fist for
permitting such a thing to happen before his eyes without making a
protest.

Ermolai, who had his own haughtiness, dodged Koupriane's fist and
replied that he had wished to prevent the young Frenchman, hut the
reporter had shown him a police-paper on which Koupriane himself
had declared in advance that the young Frenchman was to do anything
he pleased.


Gaston Leroux

Sorry, no summary available yet.